Are you ready to be scared? Let’s rephrase that – do you want to experience that rare thing, a sense of creeping terror at something unspeakable in the corner of your eye?
The Conjuring takes us back to 1971 when two real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played with conviction by the excellent Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are called to a house in Harrisville, Rhode Island, to investigate what seems to be a demonic possession.
A couple (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and five daughters report various strange sightings and disturbing phenomena, including birds hurling themselves at the windows and the clocks stopping at 3.07am.
Wilson is the no-nonsense investigator while Farmiga plays a highly sensitive medium who picks up the dark secrets of the family who built the house.
The retro style immerses us in the washed out colours and manners of the early 1970s. This extends to special effects that appear to be achieved without recourse to obvious CGI, which adds hugely to the effectiveness of the scares.
The story unfolds from the point of view of both the investigators and the family, allowing the audience to share their discoveries without really knowing what lies behind it all.
There are many moments in which you may want to put your fingers over your eyes, the most nerve-shredding probably being a game of blindfold hide and seek in which Taylor searches for her daughter in the dark places of the house. Don’t try this at home folks.
The dread rises inexorably in a way rarely experienced in modern horror pictures, and recalls classics like The Exorcist and The Haunting.
Director James Wan made his name with sado-horror hit Saw, but here shows himself to be a master of Hitchcockian suspense, expertly working his audience with long silences and heart-stopping bumps in the dark.
You’re unlikely to see a more all-consuming and dread-inducing ghost story this year.
Review by Joe Gill